Vietnam & Korea (1000-1300 CE): Overview & Influences

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  • 0:05 Korea and Vietnam 1000-1300
  • 0:34 Korea
  • 3:12 Vietnam
  • 4:59 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the history of two smaller Asian countries during the Middle Ages: Vietnam and Korea. We'll learn more about the dynasties that ruled each and the effect China had on both.

Korea and Vietnam 1000-1300

It is not always easy being the smaller guy. Sure, you may fit comfortably in an airline seat, but chances are your smaller stature made you the subject of bullying in school or on the playground. The same is sometimes true for countries and was certainly true of smaller nations in Asia during the Middle Ages. In this lesson, we'll explore the medieval history of two of these smaller countries, Korea and Vietnam, who both remained independent throughout the period but often had to contend with larger forces - most often, China.


Korea was not united under a single Korean ruler until the 7th century when the Silla kingdom defeated other factions and kings in the peninsula and pushed out the Chinese T'ang dynasty from outposts in Northern Korea. Silla attempted to govern the entire country centrally. However, Silla's rule over Korea was short-lived, and by the 8th century, its tenuous control was unraveling, giving way to the Three Kingdoms period.

This short period ended when the Koryo Dynasty rose to prominence in the 10th century. The Koryo dynasty was founded in 918 C.E. By 936, the Koryo had eliminated all other rivals in the peninsula and united the warring kingdoms of Korea. Where the Silla failed, the Koryo Dynasty largely succeeded. They ruled the peninsula centrally and undermined regional powers through the use of centrally-appointed governors in the various regions of Korea. In addition, they introduced a Chinese-style bureaucracy, where positions were given not on family, kinship, or power ties, but on merit and the ability to do the job at hand. This meritocratic system separated the Koryo administration from those before it and enabled it to rule over the entire peninsula effectively.

Unlike previous kings in the Korean peninsula, the Koryo maintained good diplomatic relations with China throughout most of the period, exemplified by the institution of Confucian civil service examinations for the bureaucracy. This did not guarantee stability; instead, Koryo Korea fought intermittent wars against nomadic invaders and other Asian states to the northeast. For example, at the turn of the 11th century, the Koryo had to fight off Khitan invaders from the Northeast, and for 40 years in the 13th century, Koryo rulers lived in exile on islands off the Korean shore while the entire peninsula was absorbed into the vast Mongol Empire.

The Koryo Dynasty was an especially vibrant time culturally for Korea. The Koryo courts were prolific patrons of the arts. Pieces that glorified Buddhism - Koryo Korea's most prominent religion - were especially well received, and the period saw many Buddhist temples and shrines erected across the peninsula. Koryo craftsman also created ceramic vessels that were elaborately painted in brilliant colors. The pieces - now known as celadon - were prized in China and across Asia.

Though Koryo Korea did eventually shirk Mongol rule, it never fully recovered control over the entire peninsula, at times fighting rival militias and other invaders for control of formerly Koryo territory. The Koryo Dynasty was finally defeated when a pro-Chinese general returned from the front and overthrew the government in 1392.


In Southeast Asia, relations with China had a similarly large effect in the destiny of various kingdoms and states. Vietnam is a case in point. In 981, Le Hoan, general of the Vietnamese army, saved Vietnam by ambushing an invading Chinese force. Le subsequently took the Vietnamese throne and ruled Vietnam until his death in 1009. Upon his death, Ly Cong Uan, a palace guard, took the throne for himself and formally instituted the Ly Dynasty.

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